First on my list of 1980s time cop future robot dramas that I missed the first time around was Blade Runner. I was expecting it to be good, but had no idea it would be gorgeous.
I had no idea what I was getting into, and I still don’t know how I ended up with the Final Cut instead of the original theatrical cut from 1982, or any of the other versions that emerged in the intervening years. I’m glad I did though, since I doubt I would have sought it out otherwise, and then I really would have been missing out.
If you haven’t seen it, and you’re not worried about me spoiling it for you, the basic idea is that Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a guy who “retires”/kills replicants, or androids that are nearly indistinguishable from people, the most recent models even having false memories implanted, meaning that they aren’t even aware that they aren’t human. While trying to retire a renegade bunch of replicants, Deckard realizes that not only is he sort of falling for a replicant, but he might be one. With that setup, this film could easily have devolved into a Robocop type cheese-fest of action tropes from the 80s, but luckily for us it didn’t.
I guess it’s inevitable that the Final Cut, coming out so many years after the various original versions, should seem oddly spliced: part slow, meditative, gorgeous montage of scenes from our imaginary future, and part 80s future-fight blowout. I found that I could care less about the plot, which is good since it’s hard-ish to follow, since it doesn’t explain anything.
Still, though. There is a protagonist in this movie, and he kind of sucks. Deckard is such a lousy blade runner that at the few times I found myself actively rooting for him, he let me down – I guess I was expecting greatness from the way he was set up, with his ex-boss begging him to come back into commission, and with the eventual implications that he may be a replicant himself. I was expecting the typical good-guy-is-competent-and-wins trope that is true of so much cinema but, I’m finding, not necessarily true of 1980s time cop future robot dramas.
But who cares. If Deckard were better at his job, we wouldn’t have Zhora diving through shop windows, falling wounded through a drift of fake snow. And even though he is sort of lame, you do end up hoping that he and Rachael escape the other blade runners that will clearly be coming after them, even though their love story is pretty icky at points (did that love scene seem slightly less than consensual to anyone else? I feel like it’s meant to be read either way).
And you even feel a little bit for crazy old Roy Batty, who has met his various makers and heard them ooh and ahh over their handiwork, and who delivers a monologue so cheesy that Chester the Cheetah stuck his head in the door when he heard it because only he could truly apprehend how dangerously cheesy it was:
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain… Time to die.
Still though, the speech is worth quoting here because it illustrates how this movie doesn’t explain things. We don’t know what a C-beam is. We don’t know what the advertising lady on the blimp in the sky is saying. And if we care that we don’t know, we aren’t watching the ideal movie for us (the ideal 1980s time cop future robot drama-style movie for us in that case is probably the satisfyingly self-explanatory Terminator, which I’ll be reviewing writing about, probably). Ridley Scott is taking us on a weird trip, and we should be happy just riding along in his futuristic taxi.